Richards Loop on the Lone Star Trail | Sam Houston National Forest


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We have been meaning to get out for a short overnight backpacking trip the last few weeks but our initial weekend in October didn’t work out—I think rain was forecast. Last weekend we had it pinpointed once again but cold air and rain was a factor. As the weekend loomed closer it appeared it would be a great weekend for a short overnight hike. I looked up the Lone Star Trail maps with an eye on an hike I did with our friend Red Hat (trail name) when she still lived in Texas back in 2011/2012. Sure enough the Richards Loop looked like the length we were looking for–about 6 miles, half of it on the official Lone Star Trail path and the other half on a portion of what is the Little Lake Creek Loop. Topo map of interest here. We’ve done other portions of both trails over the years.

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Nodding Ladies’ Tresses, Spiranthes cernua—the trail side was dotted with orchids the entire way! I mean, not lush beds of orchids, but enough where you saw handfuls of them every quarter mile. A highlight for sure!

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A red-cockaded woodpecker nesting cavity. There was bird activity around but I didn’t get a photo of them. RCWs are listed as endangered.

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Chris searching for the birds as they flitted from tree to tree.

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Because we’d planned to go hiking a few weeks ago I’d already picked up a meal from REI and we didn’t really need to put much together. All of our backpacking gear was together and so we pulled it out Saturday morning and shuffled things in and we were set to go. Much easier than packing for a car camping trip!

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The trailhead was rather full with cars when we arrived. It being a pleasant weekend plus hunting season, there was quite a bit of activity. That said, we didn’t encounter huge crowds of people either, certainly nothing like people out west deal with. But a few folks here and there as we made our way down the trail and then after a certain point it was pretty quiet.

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Downy Lobelia, Lobelia puberula

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Milkweed seeds ready to take flight on the wind.

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Elegant Gayfeather, Liatris elegans

Peak fall wildflowers was about a month ago out here as evidenced by most plants having gone to seed. That didn’t stop it all from being gorgeous out there—the sunlight in the woods shining down on the seed heads was pretty spectacular.

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The main color was the deep crimsons from the winged sumacs along the trail. Soak it in!

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Little Bluestem, Schizachyrium scoparium

The little bluestem was the highlight of the grasses out there. My favorite, the bushy bluestem, wasn’t really all that present but the little bluestem made up for it.

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Shades of color on the sumac.

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Narrowleaf Silkgrass, Pityopsis graminifolia

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Whiteleaf Mountain Mint, Pycnanthemum albescens

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This pond a little over 2 miles or so down the trail was the main source of water along with another pond on our way out the following day. I hadn’t really thought to check the water reports because we’d had some rain recently but it was definitely not enough to fill up any of the creeks out there.

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Calico Aster, Symphyotrichum lateriflorum maybe???

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Late Purple Aster, Symphyotrichum patens

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St. Peter’s Wort, Hypericum crux-andreae

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Woolgrass, Scirpus cyperinus

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Looks like a trail but this is actually a creek! Dry, dry, dry!

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Chris did end up finding a small puddle to filter from, though. So, heads up, water out there is slim.

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Prairie Blazing Star, Liatris pycnostachya

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We found a flat area about 50 yards or so off the trail and set up camp for the night. Lots of great light in the area and plenty of interesting plants to poke around and take photos of.

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Can you imagine what this liatris patch must have looked like in full bloom? I want to revisit it next year just to see the flurry of insect activity and get some photos.

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Indigo Milk Cap, Lactarius indigo

Chris found a large patch of indigo milk caps which made me happy. They are my favorite mushroom!

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It was a long night in the tent as we got in not long after dark and though we tried to play a few rounds of Uno, we quickly wanted to lay down and rest. I was coming down with a cold, too. I played an audiobook for Forest as I read my e-book on my Kindle and after Forest rolled over and fell asleep I read for a while longer. Sometime around 4-5 am someone walked by the tent. I noticed the flashlights beaming on the ground. They faded into the distance only to come back 20 minutes later. I’m sure they were hunters but it was still a little nervewracking. There was no evidence of them in the morning.

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We were up early because we’d been in the tent so long, but it was chilly. And we aren’t used to sleeping on our pads so we generally slept terribly. Both Chris and I forgot just how much our arms go to sleep when we’re in the backpacking tent.

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It was a fairly steady walk back to the car with only one stop not that far from the car for Forest to rest. He was entertained by naming the different ‘lands’ we were entering as we crossed habitat changes or later any time we crossed a fallen log. This is his favorite, “Forest Beautyberry Land”.

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Lightning found this tree.

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The one creek that was actually running. Must be spring fed?

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The last half mile or so had us finding these blush colored beautyberries. We had talked about coming across the white variety but never saw those and instead just found these.

In all, we were back to the car by 9:20 that morning, leaving us with time to grab some donuts and kolaches on our way home. I’m definitely a fan of these types of hikes and camping experiences. You can put them together quickly and still have time to get some things done over the weekend. Here’s hoping we can get a few more of these in this winter!

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One thought on “Richards Loop on the Lone Star Trail | Sam Houston National Forest

  1. shoreacres says:

    This is just wonderful. I can’t believe you found the ladies’ tresses! And I really like Forest’s name: Forest Beautyberry land. I’ve bookmarked this baby, and really appreciate all the details. I’ve looked at the various trail maps and etc., and have decided I just have to head north now and then. There’s a lot of wonderful land up there that looks to be easily explored even by a day-hiking little old lady!

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